A snare is a trap in which the force that keeps the victim trapped comes from the victim. Not all traps are snares. The classic bear trap isn't a snare, because it holds the victim by the force of a spring. An example of a snare is the (possibly apocryphal) "monkey trap."
An organization can become
ensnared when it is so
involved in maintaining
its current business that
it overlooks newer, and
much larger opportunitiesIn one version, you place a heavy narrow-mouthed container on the ground, and insert a sweet-smelling nut as bait. The monkey reaches in to grab the nut, but can't withdraw its fist, which is now too big to pull out. Unwilling to release the nut, the monkey is trapped. This is a snare because it is the monkey's own action that traps it.
Snares can be attractive, repulsive, or both. Attraction snares tempt the victim, who is ensnared by continued effort to attain the bait. Repulsion snares are just the opposite — the victim is ensnared by fear, and continued efforts to avoid the threat. Combination snares contain both bait and threat, which we usually call "incentives" and "disincentives."
One common repulsion snare is the sense that we can't cancel an effort because we have too much invested already. Eventually, we might complete the effort, but the cost can be so high that the net value returned is negative.
Repulsion snares can also arise from feelings. For instance, even thinking about failures can be painful, but unless we do, we can't learn from them. Here the snare consists of our own feelings about failure. It can prevent many organizations from holding retrospectives, which dooms them to repeat preventable failures.
An attraction snare can arise when an organization fails to exploit a new technology because it's excessively committed to an existing technology. For instance, many have argued that the US railroads failed to move into air transportation because they were ensnared by the rail passenger businesses they were already operating.
Attraction snares also work on people. "Golden handcuffs," a common element of retention strategies, uses the bait of inordinate financial rewards to persuade people to stay in positions perhaps longer than would otherwise be in their best interest. The bait often consists of stock options, but while those options vest, other factors set in: family, community, increasing age, aging of their expertise, and so on. Snared at first by the promise of disproportionate financial reward, employees can become ensnared in their jobs by these external factors.
Snares are obvious when you're not snared; they're much less so when you are. Look around you for snared colleagues and organizations. When you find one, ask yourself if you might already be ensnared in a similar way. Realizing that you're snared is the first step to finding your way out. Often, all you have to do is let go of the nut. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.